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Sports Brands Rethinking Athlete Endorsements In The Wake Of Scandal

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scandal body If you’re an athlete and hoping to get a big-name endorsement, you better be on your best behavior or else you can kiss your dream of having your face on a box of Wheaties goodbye. Sports companies are becoming more protective of their images than ever before in the wake of major athlete controversies like Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorious. Marc Beckman, co-founder and CEO of the talent firm Designers Management Agency explained to WWD, “The level of reluctance from the purchasing brand is higher as a result of these types of stories.”

After Armstrong’s fall from grace, Nike stopped production of their LIVESTRONG bracelets, and has suspended whatever contract they had with Olympic gold medalist, Oscar Pistorious, as his murder case thickens. Unlike Nike’s past mishaps with their athlete contracts (Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods), these most recent scandals have remained a fixture in the zeitgeist for a while. “These last few scandals have been so dramatic and so much on display that it’s giving other brands pause on whether endorsements are a good way to build a brand,” Jim Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand has said.

According to Gregory, one way these brands can protect themselves is to use neutral faces such as cartoon characters (Space Jam anyone?) or a “fictitious spokesperson.” That’s one way to save face, but using a cartoon spokesperson or even a retired athlete is like Anna Wintour putting an average person on the cover of Vogue instead of celebrities.

Another (more useful) method of avoiding scandal is to use more general fitness images (think Runner’s World, and Men’s/ Women’s Health images). Reebok is moving in that direction, which would make sense, right? A sports and fitness brand using inspiring fitness images rather than the face of one athlete puts the focus on the brand’s core values rather than the athlete.

Nike, despite the scandals, will proudly stand on its feet. The sports giant’s following is too strong to crumble from one or two disgraced athletes they happen to endorse. Just as one athlete falls from grace, another will come to replace him. Heck, they’re already making way for a collaboration with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. It’s now a matter of trust, and not just with their endorsed athletes, but with us, the consumers. (WWD)

Photo: Courtesy of Livestrong.

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